Certify a funk bass player
January 21, 2007 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to become a demigod bass player, relied upon to skillfully secrete pelvis-destroying, improvised funk-era bass lines. Who will I listen to? What albums will I know by heart?
posted by Moistener to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Most anything by James Brown from 1968 to 1974. Over and over, and over.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:36 PM on January 21, 2007

posted by Jimbob at 6:36 PM on January 21, 2007

Anything by Parliament, Funkadellic or Bootsy Collins will get you off to a great start.
posted by furtive at 6:36 PM on January 21, 2007

well, for starters....

Bootsy Collins
James Jamerson
Stanley Clarke
Victor Wooten
Christian McBride
Larry Graham
posted by gnutron at 6:39 PM on January 21, 2007

Not quite "funk" but I say Jaco.
posted by fair_game at 6:41 PM on January 21, 2007

Also, Jah Wobble. Specifically PIL's Metal Box
posted by Burhanistan at 6:41 PM on January 21, 2007

Marcus Miller.
posted by Wolof at 6:42 PM on January 21, 2007

posted by rossination at 6:54 PM on January 21, 2007

I second, third & fourth the Bootsy!
posted by miss lynnster at 6:57 PM on January 21, 2007

I second Victor Wooten (from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) and Jaco Pastorius (from Weather Report).

A good way to learn syncopation and new rhythms for your bass lines is to buy a funk drum book and just tap the drum lines out on whatever you have available. I use my legs. This is the one I have.
posted by unreasonable at 7:06 PM on January 21, 2007

posted by Salvatorparadise at 7:13 PM on January 21, 2007

Looks like Bootsy's website is going under "optical-illusonated surgery" for 2 working weeks, so you should check him back on the repeat, Bobbles!

It's amazing that he's endured so well... going from this all the way to this. He's aged so shockingly well... he doesn't seem a day older to me. He's still got his groove & has never changed his style. I mean, how many senior citizens could pull off that look? Actually, how many PEOPLE?
posted by miss lynnster at 7:18 PM on January 21, 2007

Duck Dunn, as bassist for Booker T and the MGs, was crucial to the Stax sound of the 1960s. A lot of those recordings would be considered R&B or soul and not funk, but that rhythm section is worth paying a lot of attention to.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:24 PM on January 21, 2007

Ooooh. Flea's another good suggestion. Actually, if you live in LA, you check out his music school. They work with kids a lot but I believe anyone can take lessons there.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2007

eh.... all above are required listening, but if you wanna get the funk out, check out James Browns first 13 albums, get the Motown boxed sets, and get some girl friends. What ever makes them dance (or want to dance) ((I mean SHAKE THAT ROAST)) well, whatever makes them move their hips, that, my friend, is the funk......

I was always unfulfilled with Flea, Bootsy and Jaco...... great bassists, sure, but they never made me want to dance......

And Victor, yes..... but too clean....... funk is about getting nasty, is it not?

Check out The Time, earlier Commodores, and Stevie Wonder.........
posted by peewinkle at 8:02 PM on January 21, 2007

A lot of these are jazz, jazz fusion, and R&B players. For funk you want to check early Commodores, Soul Searchers "Salt Of The Earth," Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (the album), Brothers Johnson, Sly & The Family Stone (Larry Graham above), Jimmy Castor Bunch, Dazz Band. So many.
posted by rhizome at 8:04 PM on January 21, 2007

I wouldn't overlook 1970s-era porn flicks.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:09 PM on January 21, 2007

I don't think he only used one, but I think any bass player you hear in a Fela Kuti album has to be a funkmeister.
posted by micayetoca at 8:15 PM on January 21, 2007

Speaking of 70s porn, 'behind the green door' has some outstandingly funky bass work.
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:45 PM on January 21, 2007

In addition to all the outstanding suggestions above, listen to Primus.
posted by jesourie at 8:51 PM on January 21, 2007

The first album you should pick up is Bette Davis's self-titled. It's got Larry Graham and the rest of the Family Stone rhythm section, and is an amazing and minimal funk bomb.
Take a listen to Tina Weymouth from the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club— she's under-rated.
The Meters made funk basslines like Bo Diddley made rhythm shuffles. The song "Handclappin'" should be immediately added to your repetoir.
Take a listen to some Sly and Robbie albums; Robbie Shakespeare is Jamaica's bass god.
Watch out with Bootsy Collins. Like much of the P-Funk empire, he descended into self-parody with an emphasis on virtuosity rather than burning funk.

Post-punk is another place to look— Entertainment by Gang of Four should be in any bassist's collection.
(This is all off my head. I'll probably come back later with a list of what songs you should listen to specifically).
posted by klangklangston at 8:53 PM on January 21, 2007

Jonas Hellborg! Check out this amazing solo.
posted by shinybeast at 8:58 PM on January 21, 2007

peewinkle has it right: less jazz more azz

nebulawindphone: could you expand more in that direction please? (RnB and soul)
posted by Moistener at 9:18 PM on January 21, 2007

"So many."

rhizome: I've got time. Post more if so moved. Thanks for the start.
posted by Moistener at 9:20 PM on January 21, 2007

Not for funk, but for pure talent, Rob Wasserman.
posted by vronsky at 9:20 PM on January 21, 2007

I would have to say Flea. Not as the main source, but the guy knows how to improv and can hold down clean or dirty licks.
posted by magikker at 9:23 PM on January 21, 2007

"Tina Weymouth from the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club— she's under-rated"


and Sly and Robbie should be at the top of the list - good calls.
posted by vronsky at 9:34 PM on January 21, 2007

I'm surprised there's been only on mention of George Porter, Jr. of the Meters. That has to be the funkiest music ever made! The best album is Look-Ka-Py-Py if you can find it, but the anthology will do as well. These guys toured with the Rolling Stones for a while and Jagger called them the funkiest band in the world.

And no one's mentioned Francis Rocco Prestia of Tower of Power??? Funk-galore! Start with the albums Tower of Power and Back to Oakland

I second the James Brown recommendation. The Star Time anthology is a good place to start.
posted by keith0718 at 10:54 PM on January 21, 2007

Bass list briefly (sorted by album)

ESG- Moody- A South Bronx Story
The Quails— Riding the 5— Atmosphere
Betty Davis— Anti-Love Song— Betty Davis (Seriously, get this first)
Sookie— Rhythm on Rhythm— Club Africa vol 1
Pigbag— Getting Up—Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive
Helene Smith— Pain In My heart— Eccentric Soul: Deep City Label
Gang of Four— Damaged Goods— Entertainment
The Pop Group— Blind Faith— For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?
Betty Bipps— Pounds of Soul— Funky Soul Sisters
The Belles— Come Back— Girls in the Garage
Pylon— Danger!— Gyrate
Us— Let's Do It Today— Midwest Funk
Gaturs— Gator Bait— New Orleans Funk and Soul
Bush Tetras— Can't Be Funky— New York Noise
James Blood Ulmer— Jazz is the Teacher, Funk is the Preacher— NMEC81
Dee Edwards— A Girl Can't Go By What She Hears— Rare and Vintage Detroit Soul

This should be a good start. Maybe I'll think of more later.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 PM on January 21, 2007

Also, if you want stuff you can probably just about play badly from a fairly low base, I recommend learning big chunks of me'shell ndegéocello's Plantation Lullabies. It's a compendium of lots of reasonably simple licks with the sort of time feel and articulation that makes all the difference. Learn to do that and you are happening. Play along with the record, then do it with a drum machine. Record the result, listen, criticise.
posted by Wolof at 1:56 AM on January 22, 2007

Not precisely funk, but I can't imagine it'd hurt to study Janice Marie Johnson and Bernard Edwards, of A Taste of Honey and Chic, respectively. Both of them never fail to make me want to dance.

Was going to mention Tina Weymouth too, but I see I was beaten to it -- so I third her.
posted by seancake at 2:43 AM on January 22, 2007

Steal all Bernard Edwards' shit too. I know I did.
posted by Wolof at 4:25 AM on January 22, 2007

I was all excited that nobody mentioned Bernard Edwards, but then, dang, last two comments. Thirding Bernard Edwards, and nth-ing a bunch of people (Bootsy, James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, etc.), who have already been mentioned.

And did anybody say Bill Laswell yet? (His output is all over the place, but there's definitely some funk in there.)

Also, contrary to a few above commenters, I think that listening to jazz players is a prerequisite. You can call James Brown bands a lot of things, but you sure can't call them 'improvised.'
posted by box at 5:08 AM on January 22, 2007

I agree with box, ya gotta be familiar with jazz.

Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Smith come to mind -- not for their bassists, but their jazz/funk stylings.

Seconding Victor Wooten, Jaco, Clarke, and the Meters....the Funky Meters.

I'm also big into Galactic and their drummer Stanton Moore is probably one of the best out their now. Required material.
posted by premortem at 6:22 AM on January 22, 2007

Not funk per se but still great: Jean Jacques Burnel
posted by jdfan at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2007

Instead of just focusing on players, I'll mention some of my favorite funk bass songs and albums as well.

James Jamerson. Jr. is a bass God and played in Motowns 'Funk Brothers', but it is not necessarily a funkmeister. Check him out for his melodic and groundbreaking work on early Motown records. I prefer his work on the album What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, which is very groovy soul indeed. Also a great Motown bass player: Bob Babbit. Although I really admire Donald 'Duck' Dunn (Booker T. & the MG's, 95% of early Stax records, The Blues Brothers), he is really more a 'soul' bassist.

George Porter Jr. (The Meters) has some cool lines as well. Most of the time he is minimalistic and his lines are very dependent on the interplay with the other Meters (which is the main characteristic of their sound). Their first three albums (The Meters, Look-Ka Py Py , Struttin') are great, although you might also wanna check out some later work like Rejuvenation and Zony Mash with very funky vintage rarities and non-album B-sides.

Listen to early Willliam 'Bootsy' Collins (JB's appr. '69-'71). Bootsy has a unique timing and plays totally independent and loose. Listen closely to Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose and Sex Machine and you'll know what I mean. The album: Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang. I dig his Mu-Tron pedal based wah bass work with Parliament (and that of the other bass players as well), but imho his earlier work with the JB's is his very best.

People mentioned Rocco Prestia of Tower of Power. They made a lot of love song crap and some of the best funk in the seventies. The song What Is Hip shows you really all you need to know about his famous 'sixteenth notes'.

Bernard Edwards has some very funky (disco) grooves, check out any 'Best of Chic' album or 'Diana' by Diana Ross.

Stevie Wonder came up with some of the funkiest (synth) bass lines in the seventies. Check out Innervisions, Songs In The Key Of Life and Talking Book. Other keyboardists to consider: Lonnie Smith on Hammond Bass. Check out Live at Club Mozambique and Think! (also note his main drummer, funkmeister Idris Muhammad.

Players of today: check out Flea on Blood Sugar Sex Magik. I think it is his best and funkiest work.

Also check out Pino Palladino on D'Angelo's Voodoo and some of the songs on The RH Factor (I prefer the Strength album). The man basically invented the off time funk groove, which is almost impossible to copy and is just delicious.

I also really admire Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin & Wood, who combines jazz chops with some of the best grooves today. Not everyone digs the instrumental experiments of this band, but Chris is very funky. Check out the albums Shack Man, Combustication and their new album Out Louder. Also check out his work with Stanton Moore on the album Flyin' the Koop.

Afrobeat: start with Fela Kuti. I don't know all his work and I don't know any names of his bass player(s), but start with a collection and try out the live album with Ginger Baker, I think that one is very funky. Also try newer stuff like the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Some great afrobeat bass work on these albums.

And: never, never forget that any good funk groove consists of not just a good bass line. You'll need a good drummer and other rhythm orientated instrumentalists as well. It's all about interplay and knowing when to play, not about chops.

Good luck.
posted by IZ at 7:17 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I almost forgot: Paul Jackson is untouchable on Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, Thrust and Man-Child.
posted by IZ at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2007

Andrew Levy of the Brand New Heavies.
Me'shell Ndegéocello (as previously mentioned).
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2007

IZ nailed it for me, but I'll put out a shout for James Jamerson (and Bob Babbit) Bernard Edwards, Donald 'Duck' Dunn, Bootsy, and George Porter Jr.
posted by ob at 9:37 AM on January 22, 2007

Metal funk? Try Extreme
posted by Gungho at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2007

Metal funk?

Don't mind if I do. More please?
posted by Moistener at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2007

I know that this is going to be a little bit out of left field, but go check out The Smiths "Barbarism Begins at Home". I'd have to think a little harder before suggesting the whole Smiths catalogue, but that song has a pretty funky bass line.
posted by hue at 12:06 PM on January 22, 2007

No one has yet mentioned Prince and Prince's various bands. They've gotten funkier as Prince has aged, and the newer bands' recordings—and performances—of the older songs are funk in the funk of funk with a side of funk.
posted by cgc373 at 3:41 PM on January 22, 2007

Wha! Never heard of Extreme? Boston's only Heavy Metal Funk band. True their biggest hit is a balade, but there are three sides to every story. Rest in Peace my metafriend. Those that do the Decadence Dance say that Cupid's Dead. Well I say Peacemaker Die! When I'm President I'll also say Get The Funk Out. So Don't be so Hole Hearted. (in other words. III Sides to Every Story and Pornograffiti are two Extreme albums you should check out.)
posted by Gungho at 4:41 PM on January 22, 2007

So dissapointed that Les Claypool isn't admired much here. He redefined for me what bass players could do with the instrument.
So one teeny tiny vote for 'ol Les.
posted by stavx at 8:36 PM on January 22, 2007

(Les doesn't usually play funk. He plays rock.)
posted by Wolof at 10:51 PM on January 22, 2007

I didn't mention Larry Graham, because I'm more into finger style funk and his lines don't do it for me. If you're into the whole 'slap bass' thing however, you should start with his work with Graham Central Station (Pow! is a great track). His work with Sly is famous, but I'm not into it.

Not funk at all, but John Paul Jones of Led Zep for sure influenced my funk lines. Check out The Lemon Song on Led Zeppelin II and you'll know what I mean.

Obscure Belgium funk band Wizards of Ooze had a really, really great bass player. And check out Roy Ayers. I don't know the names of his bass players, but they sure are funky.
posted by IZ at 2:46 AM on January 23, 2007

Perhaps a side discussion: but in order to grow as a funkmeister, you should distinguish what to play from how you play it.

You can be funky in another musical style than funk and you can be very unfunky in a funk band. I have seen many examples of both. Try to listen to what the
composition or the song needs and often less is really more.
posted by IZ at 6:33 AM on January 23, 2007

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